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Additional ballots challenged

ST. PAUL -- The number of disputed ballots dramatically rose in the second day of Minnesota's U.S. Senate race recount, making them the key to who eventually wins.

By Thursday night, 734 ballots had been challenged, a figure that dwarfs the 215-vote margin Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman led Democratic challenger Al Franken before the recount began Wednesday. A state board will look at each challenged ballot to see who, if anyone, gets that vote.

The two campaigns challenged more than twice as many ballots Thursday as they did on the recount's first day.

Coleman continued to lead Franken after two days of recounting, and both campaigns said the early numbers bode well for their eventual success.

The secretary of state's office Thursday night reported that unofficially with 42 percent of the ballots recounted, Coleman lost a net of 86 votes in the recounted precincts, compared to the same precincts' pre-recount returns. That would reduce his lead to 129 votes.

In the raw vote, Coleman led with 43 percent of the vote, to Franken's 40 percent. However, many of the ballots left to recount are in urban areas that lean toward Franken. Many rural Republican counties had completed their recounts.

Both campaigns saw good signs in the numbers.

"We are picking up votes across the state," Franken attorney Marc Elias said. "In some cases, we are picking up big chunks."

Coleman's staff said the same thing.

"We are ahead of where we expected to be at this point," Coleman lawyer Fritz Knaak said.

Other than normal vote fluctuations seen during any recount, two major issues remain:

l The two campaigns are challenging hundreds of ballots, far more than the difference expected between them at the end of the recount.

l Absentee ballots that local officials rejected, which also could be in the hundreds, should be considered, the Franken campaign said.

The state Canvassing Board is expected to meet Wednesday to decide the absentee issue and in December to count challenged ballots. Between the two issues, the five-member board easily will consider enough ballots to decide the winner.

Regardless of the recount, most observers say there is a good chance the election will end up in court.

Before any of that takes place, however, every one of the 2.9 million ballots needs to be counted. Most counties appear to be progressing faster than expected, although some do not start their recounts until as late as Dec. 3.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.